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Friday, January 17, 2014 12:00:00 PM

Part 1: All ABA is NOT Equal

By Shannon Penrod

First, a disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, lawyer, board certified behavior analyst or a person with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I am a parent, whose child was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2 1/2.  At that time, my son had virtually no functional communication and he frequently engaged in violent and self-injurious behavior.  My son was given access to quality ABA therapy.  He is now 10, high functioning, verbal, and in a completely included 5th grade class performing at or above grade standards.  He plans on being a scientist.  Here is what I want you to know about ABA and Autism:

  1. All ABA is not equal.  It is imperative that you have access to quality ABA at today’s standards.

ABA has been around for a long time and has been and continues to be used to improve behavior for a wide range of purposes.  It is not an Autism treatment.  Businesses use it, Olympic athletes use it, the list of applications for ABA is endless.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s that ABA was used for Autism.  In 1987, the first study showing how effective ABA was in treating Autism was published.  Since then, hundreds of other studies have been published showing how effective quality ABA is when treating Autism, more on that in a future blog.  What you need to know is that from 1987 to now, a great deal of research was done and a great number of people tried a boat load of techniques - they didn’t all work, and some of them weren’t ethical.

You will hear harrowing stories from young adults with Autism who were tortured with aversives or punished when they attempted to soothe themselves. My blood runs cold when I hear the stories of these individuals and what they suffered at the hands of what was called ABA by people who were unethical. 

It is important that we are all clear, quality ABA treatment for Autism does not use aversives, it is not punitive, children are not hit or harmed in anyway.  If you experience any of these things from an ABA provider, you need to fire them immediately and consider getting a lawyer.

Quality ABA focuses on rewarding a child for positive behavior.  It does not take away children’s ability to sooth themselves; it frequently teaches them more effective ways to sooth themselves.  Quality ABA helps to make social interaction and learning rewarding for an individual instead of just something to be tolerated.  Quality ABA fosters effective communication and empowers the individual to get their needs met. 

Now that insurance is funding ABA treatment for Autism, there is sudden surge in ABA providers.  This is wonderful and needed,  but it also creates a potential for watered-down, lesser-quality ABA services.  There are many hallmarks of a quality ABA program but as a parent I would tell you to be mindful of four things:

  1. Within 2 weeks of starting therapy, your child should be THRILLED when a therapist comes to your door for a session.  If your child isn’t noticeably happy to see the therapists, they aren’t doing it right!
  2. Never trust anyone. Period.  Get a video baby monitor or a nanny cam and tell everyone who works with your child that you are listening and watching.  You will learn a lot by listening and watching, and you will ensure that your child is safe and making progress!  If a therapist or a provider is not comfortable being on camera while working with your child, DON’T WORK WITH THEM!
  3. Your child needs to be making regular progress, and if they aren’t, your ABA provider needs to be talking about what THEY are going to change.  A quality ABA provider will tell you that it is never the child’s fault if progress is not being made.  It is always the method.
  4. Your provider should have a plan and be able to articulate it clearly to you. .. “This is what we are going to teach your child and how we are going to teach it.  This is how we are going to intervene for this behavior and what we are going to teach your child to do in its place.”  If they can’t articulate it to you, they aren’t going to get it done and you should be with someone else.

Don’t settle for less than quality ABA, ever.  ABA is effective when done properly and with the right amount of frequency.  Be an enlightened consumer and ensure that you and your family get only quality ABA at today’s standards.